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Black Male Engagement Amplifies Detroiters' Good Deeds

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Black Male Engagement (BME or "be me") launched in August as an initiative to offer support and positive reinforcement to black men who are active in their communities.

The program is currently piloting in Detroit and Philadelphia, sponsored by a grant from the Knight Foundation and Open Society Foundation.

Knight's Rishi Jaitly explained BME as a "social network that's all about resident leadership." The idea, Jaitly said, was to make it easy for Detroiters to recognize one another for good work they're doing in the city.

Since BME launched, 1,065 men have shared their stories in video messages available on the organization's website. Community leaders talk about their projects and have the chance to connect with others doing similar work in Detroit.

The focus on black men, as opposed to other groups, is the product of BME organizers' experience in Detroit.

"In the course of our work here as a foundation, we've just come across a lot of engaged black men and teenagers in the community who've just played a vital role in a lot of our initiatives," Jaitly explained. "It's an easier community for us to begin with; we'd just seen so much leadership."

The list of Detroit BME participants is long and varied. It includes mentors, entrepreneurs, urban gardeners, a barber, a ball room dance instructor and City Council Member (and former interim Mayor) Ken Cockrel Jr.

Other BMErs: Eddie Connor, a 13-year cancer survivor who is now a mentor; Fran Westbrooks, founder of Detroit Comeback Kids; Curtis Lipscomb of KICK, which supports LGBT African Americans.

In his BME video, Lipscomb explains he's worked with nearly 3,500 people in nearly 20 years of service. One of those services is offering sensitivity training to Detroit Public Schools administrators with the goal of preventing bullying.

The next step for BME is to move from recognition to funding. The organization is sponsoring a grant competition, open to individuals, corporations and nonprofits. The application was just a few paragraphs long in an effort to make it easier to participate for those who had not previously looked for funding through formal grant channels.

Jaitly said BME is asking grant competitors a simple question: "What else might you do if you had access to more resources, a bigger stage?"

Those who made the second round are eligible for grants up to $50,000 to continue their community work. The winners will be announced in January, and Jaitly said he hopes some of them will go on to win future funding from local grant-making groups.

Whether or not individual BMErs win the money, Jaitly says the idea has proven a success, with members getting together informally to discuss their projects and promote strong leadership and community involvement.

"What's been fascinating is when people feel their narrative all of a sudden is being amplified by a big megaphone, that in and of itself has proved empowering," Jaitly said.

* * * * *

As 2011 comes to a close, HuffPost Detroit looks to honor those who made an impact in our city this year. The 2011 Detroit Impact series will profile one organization per day until the end of the year. There are 11 organizations included in the series (see them all in the slideshow below), but there are dozens more doing good in and around Detroit. For full coverage of the people and organizations helping others, visit HuffPost Detroit Impact.

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